Mossel Bay’s Point of Human Origins Experience has already hosted more than two and a half times as many visitors during this year’s visitor season than it did during the same period last year.
The organisers attribute the increase of 160% partly to marketing – but largely to our very human desire to know about the origins of our species and our behaviour.
The Point of Human Origins Experience is a discussion and guided tour of Mossel Bay’s Pinnacle Point Caves – which have revealed the earliest evidence for modern human behaviour.
The tour has drawn attention from across the globe. “Besides South Africans, we’ve hosted visitors from Australia, the USA, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Norway, Angola, the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany,” said tour leader Dr. Peter Nilssen.
He said that visitor comments after the tour “are always glowing, sometimes even embarrassingly so.”
In a personal note to Dr. Nilssen, Professor Roseanne Diab, the CEO of the Academy of Science of South Africa and Emeritus Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, wrote, “Now that I am back from Mossel Bay I wanted to express my very sincere thanks, on behalf of our group, to you for the wonderful tour. We thoroughly enjoyed the presentation and learning more from you and of course the views and the caves themselves were an experience to cherish. Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm and knowledge with us and we shall certainly spread the word about this very special site.”
Writing on the Point of Human Experience’s Facebook page, local resident Jake Nel said: “Thank you for such an amazing experience – back to the past with the eyes firmly placed on the future. Your dispensing of information regarding the caves and the history of our species was to say the least brilliant. Will definitely recommend tour to all who visit Mossel Bay.”
LARGEST SCIENTIFIC PROJECT
The Pinnacle Point Caves have been the focus of research for a multi-disciplinary team of more than forty scientists from around the world since test excavations began in 2000. The team is led by Curtis Marean, an associate director of the Institute of Human Origins and professor at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. The study is known as the SACP4 Project – South African Coast Palaeoclimate, Palaeoenvironment, Palaeoecology and Palaeoanthropology Project. It is the largest scientific project of its kind in the world.
The finds in the Caves were first recognised during a routine archaeological survey of the land that would become the Pinnacle Point Beach & Golf Resort by Dr. (then doctoral candidate) Nilssen, working together with consulting archaeologist Jonathan Kaplan, the director of the Agency for Cultural Resource Management.
“The Pinnacle Point Caves contain both a unique record of human habitation – spanning a period of at least 120,000 years over the last 162,000 years – and a unique record of the climate from about 400,000 to 30,0000 years ago,” said Dr. Nilssen.
He said that genetic research has shown that all humans alive today stem from a core population that lived in Africa around 170,000 years ago.
“At that time most of the continent was uninhabitable because of a massive ice age – but the area around Mossel Bay, which would have looked a lot like the African savanna does today, was a safe refuge where our ancestors survived, and developed the skills that we now recognise as definitive of modern human behaviour.”
Dr. Nilssen said that public interest grew quickly after Prof. Marean and his team published their first significant paper on their finds in 2007. By 2012 requests to visit the Caves – and for an explanation of what’s been found there – led to the establishment of the Point of Human Origins Experience, which is a joint initiative of the SACP4 Project, Heritage Western Cape, and the Pinnacle Point Homeowners Association (which owns the land on which the Caves are found).
Bookings and logistics are managed by the Oystercatcher Trail (a commercial luxury hike).
PROVINCIAL HERITAGE SITE
The Caves were declared a Provincial Heritage Site in 2012 – a necessary step in the process towards having them declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s a move that’s expected to increase visitor demand even further.
Mossel Bay Tourism’s Marcia Holm congratulated the Point of Human Origins Experience on its “phenomenal growth.
“The discovery of the emergence of modern human behavior in our area has given Mossel Bay a real, powerful differentiator that has begun to attract major attention from around the world, and Dr. Nilssen’s lecture and tour is an important, nuanced, and fascinating introduction to what we can learn about ourselves from our collective origins.
“The tour is thus an important addition to Mossel Bay’s growing tourism offering,” she said
The Point of Human Origins Experience runs on selected dates. It starts from the Pinnacle Point Golf Clubhouse, and includes Dr. Nilssen’s in-depth, illustrated lecture, as well as a walking visit to the Caves. 20% of the cost of each ticket goes towards the conservation of the Caves, and towards the maintenance of access routes to the Caves.
- Point of Human Origins experience: www.humanorigin.co.za
- Point of Human Origins on Facebook: www.facebook.com/PointOfHumanOrigins
- Mossel Bay: www.visitmosselbay.co.za